MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED) Mark Caguioa marked his return from a two-month layoff with a flourish, providing Barangay Ginebra firepower and leadership as the Kings ripped the Air21 Express, 103-85, to start their campaign in the PBA Governors Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last night.
Caguioa, who missed the Commissioner’s Cup playoffs due to a fractured eye socket, went 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, 3-of-6 from the two-point zone and 3-of-3 from the stripe to lead the Ginebra locals with 15 points that went with two rebounds and one assist.
Coming in five minutes into the game wearing a protective eyewear, Caguioa knocked in his very first field goal attempt – a three-pointer atop the key – and helped fuel their searing final-half breakaway.
Cedric Bozeman piled up 29 points and 13 rebounds in a decent debut as a Ginebra import while rookie Allein Maliksi put in 13 points, making his presence felt in his own return from an injury.
Bozeman, Caguioa and Maliksi scored at least eight points each as the Kings went roaring in the second half, breaking away from a close 45-39 halftime count.
Maliksi, the MVP in the inaugural PBA D-League tourney, converted six of nine field goal attempts in 16 minutes of action in his first game after a six-month layoff due to an ACL tear.
It's only Maliksi's fourth game with Ginebra and eighth overall after being picked eighth overall by Barako Bull in the most recent rookie draft. He landed at Ginebra as part of the three-way trade deal among Barako, Ginebra and B-Meg that also involved Kerby Raymundo, Rico Maierhofer, Yancy de Ocampo and Jimbo Aquino.
Ginebra showed up with a resurgent roster that included Maierhofer, who likewise returned from an ACL injury.
"We can't say yet whether we've got a team which can contend for the championship. Perhaps, we can gauge our strength when up against the tough teams," said Caguioa.
Later in the night, Meralco pulled off its very first win ever against Talk n Text, pouncing on the Texters' injury-crippled lineup for a 105-99 victory.
Returning import Champ Oguchi and Sol Mercado combined for 53 points to lead the Bolts to a triumphant start in the season-ending tourney.
"It's always crucial to start well in a short tournament like this. This win could well give us the confidence that we need," said Ginebra coach Siot Tanquingcen.
The Ginebra mentor was thankful Caguioa didn’t take long to return from his injury, saying the 6-foot-1 guard "would always be the soul of this team."
"I'm not yet in perfect shape but it's good to be back," said Caguioa, who suffered his injury in their playoff match with B-Meg for an outright semis seat in the last conference.
The Kings won that match but the Llamados had their revenge in their Final Four showdown.
Despite sitting out the semifinals, Caguioa salvaged the Best Player of the Conference honors, making him an outright candidate for the season's MVP award.
Is he eyeing the award?
"Before I really wanted to win the award. But as you mature, all you want is to be healthy," said Caguioa.
Air21 import Zach Graham led all scorers with 31 points and added 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal.
Renren Ritualo and James Sena were the other Air21 players who put in double-digit outputs with 13 and 11, respectively.
Air21 activated rookie free agent Hyram Bagatsing in lieu of Jojo Duncil, who was relegated to the reserve list reportedly after a run-in with their import in practice.
Ginebra 103 – Bozeman 29, Caguioa 15, Maliksi 13, Hatfield 10, Ababou 9, Cortez 8, Raymundo 7, Wilson W. 6, Wilson J. 3, Labagala 2, Villanueva 1, Maierhofer 0, Canaleta 0.
Air21 85 – Graham 31, Ritualo 13, Sena 11, Isip 6, Omolon 6, Jazul 5, Espiritu 4, Sison 4, Bagatsing 3, Hubalde 2, Menor 0, Faundo 0.
Quarterscores: 23-18, 45-39, 71-62, 103-85
Meralco 105 – Oguchi 29, Mercado 24, Cardona 15, Hugnatan 12, Taulava 9, Artadi 8, Macapagal 4, Ross 3, Reyes 1.
Talk n Text 99 – Harris 32, De Ocampo 17, Aban 13, Peek 11, Raymundo 9, Fonacier 9, Dillinger 8, Gamalinda 0, Aguilar 0, Alvarez 0, Lao 0.
Quarterscores: 22-28, 54-52, 83-78, 105-99